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How to make the ‘Refer a Friend’ concept work?

18 August 2016
by Adam Oldfield

The ‘Refer a Friend’ concept isn’t new. But still only a small handful of marketers have perfected the model so that it actually works for their brand. Not only is it a legal minefield, but because it’s so important to nail the timings, messaging and channels used, so many people still get it wrong.

So how do you make ‘Refer a Friend’ work?

  1. First up, marketers need to realise that, legally, their brand can’t opt a consumer in. They can only facilitate the communications between the referrer and the friend. Due to data protection laws, the referrer can’t opt the friend in either! This therefore lies at the heart of the first challenge – achieving that all important sign up.
  1. As a marketer, you need to give compelling reasons why people should refer. Different brands prefer different incentive mechanisms, with some choosing to offer a small reward/discount for every recommendation (£5 for 5 referrals), and others providing a larger reward, such as £50, but only if the friend joins. Our advice? If you’re using your data effectively, it’s better to give smaller thanks. If you don’t have a grip of your data and aren’t equipped to carefully manage the process, it’s more cost-effective to opt for the larger incentive, as you’re leaving the initiative in the hands of the gods!

    You might be surprised to know that the ‘just ask’ principle actually works very well in many different walks of marketing. This could therefore prove as effective as an incentivised ‘refer a friend’ scheme, especially if you make the request to loyal, satisfied customers and brand advocates.
  1. Next, think about the actual communication mechanism. The recommendation process should be as simple as possible, certainly in the business to consumer (B2C) environment. Asking for mobile numbers and email addresses that people no longer know off the top of their heads, could result in the campaign falling flat. However, virtually everyone is on Facebook so why not type in their name to find them from a friends list? It’s important to provide different recommendation options of course, but don’t neglect this 3rd fruitful channel – Facebook lookup.
  1. After this, it’s over to the brand to facilitate the comms. This part needs to be played perfectly – you may only get one shot. The email, Facebook or SMS message must therefore recognise and talk to the recommended friend, QUICKLY!

    Don’t overcomplicate this stage. Keep the message simple, with personalised, succinct text and an eye-catching subject line such as: Adam Oldfield has recommended you look at this. For the time being, there’s no need to worry about introducing the product, service or even the discount. The friend is unlikely to buy immediately anyway. It’s more important to create a sense of intrigue, engage them and secure their ‘opt in’.
  1. That’s why the next job is to secure the line of communication moving forward. Keep the message vague to give a reason to click and progress to a landing page. Here, the primary objective is to obtain their consent to keep talking to them. If they give permission, they go into a funnel just like any other customer journey. Only then can you start to ‘sell’ – everything must be passive until that point.

NOTE: Realistically, you can only responsibly follow this process once (or perhaps twice if the user didn’t open the initial comms after a period of time). After that, it is unethical to mention the name of the referrer.

When laid out in 5 simple steps, the Refer a Friend model seems quite straightforward. However, in truth, tracking a referral through to conversion is actually very complex. That’s why marketing automation software is so important. Whether the friend converts online, via direct mail or over the phone, a savvy marketer needs to be able to attribute that conversion to its source, in order to vend the response and reward. Without tech in place, this would be an incredible struggle, especially given the time pressures involved.

Luckily, we’ve developed a model that ensures ‘Refer a Friend’ works. Want to try it? Contact us.

Photo of Adam Oldfield
Adam Oldfield
Managing Director & Founder

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